Who First Domesticated Animals?
Neolithic people were the first to domesticate animals and begin to plant crops. This great step forward towards civilization took place sometime between 8,000 and 5,000 B.C. in what is now the Near East, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.
The first farmers freed themselves and their descendants from complete dependence on hunting, fishing and gathering wild plants and fruit for their food supply. Their animals learned to depend on them for protection and food and had their young in captivity, so ensuring new flocks.
Thus the Neolithic (or New Stone Age) people began to form settled communities, for the farmer wanted to stay in the same place to harvest his crops. The first plants to be successfully grown were wheat and barley which were good for food and simple to plant and harvest.
The stalks provided fodder for the animals. The earliest animals to be domesticated were goats, pigs, sheep and cattle and, of course, dogs.
The dog was the first domesticant, and was established across Eurasia before the end of the Late Pleistocene era, well before cultivation and before the domestication of other animals. Humans did not intend to domesticate animals from, or at least they did not envision a domesticated animal resulting from, either the commensal or prey pathways.
In both of these cases, humans became entangled with these species as the relationship between them, and the human role in their survival and reproduction, intensified. Although the directed pathway proceeded from capture to taming, the other two pathways are not as goal-oriented and archaeological records suggest that they take place over much longer time frames.
Unlike other domestic species which were primarily selected for production-related traits, dogs were initially selected for their behaviors. The archaeological and genetic data suggest that long-term bidirectional gene flow between wild and domestic stocks – including donkeys, horses, New and Old World camelids, goats, sheep, and pigs – was common.
One study has concluded that human selection for domestic traits likely counteracted the homogenizing effect of gene flow from wild boars into pigs and created domestication islands in the genome. The same process may also apply to other domesticated animals.
Over time, these traits make domestic animals different from their wild ancestors. Dogs were probably domesticated from gray wolves. Today, dogs are a distinct species from gray wolves.
Domesticated animals can look very different from their wild ancestors. For example, early wild chickens weighed about two pounds. But over thousands of years of domestication, they have been bred to be larger. Larger chickens yield more meat.
Today, domestic chickens weigh as much as 17 pounds. Wild chickens only hatched a small number of eggs once a year, while domestic chickens commonly lay 200 or more eggs each year.